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Doppler ultrasound exam of an arm or leg

This test uses ultrasound to examine the blood flow in the major arteries and veins in the arms and legs.

How the test is performed

The test is done in the ultrasound or radiology department or in a peripheral vascular lab.

A water-soluble gel is placed on a handheld device called a transducer, which directs the high-frequency sound waves to the artery or veins being tested.

When examining the arteries, the following will also be done:

Blood pressure cuffs may be put around different parts of the body, including the thigh, calf, ankle, and different points along the arm. A paste is applied to the skin over the arteries being examined. Images are created as the transducer is moved over each area.

How to prepare for the test

You will need to remove clothing from the arm or leg being examined.

How the test will feel

There is little or no discomfort associated with this test.

Why the test is performed

This test is done as an alternative to arteriography and venography. It may help diagnose:

The test may also be used to evaluate injury to the arteries and to monitor arterial reconstruction and bypass grafts.

Normal Values

A normal result means the blood vessels show no signs of narrowing or closure, and the arteries have normal blood flow.

What abnormal results mean

Abnormal results may be due to:

  • Blockage in an artery by a blood clot, piece of fat, or an air bubble
  • Blood clot in an artery or vein
  • Narrowing or widening of an artery
  • Spastic arterial disease (arterial contractions brought on by cold or emotion)
  • Venous occlusion (closing of vein)

Additional conditions under which this test may be performed include:

What the risks are

There are no risks specifically associated with this procedure.

Special considerations

Cigarette smoking may alter the results of this test, because nicotine can cause the arteries in the extremities to constrict.

Quitting smoking significantly lowers the risk of problems with the heart and circulatory system. Most smoking-related deaths are caused by cardiovascular problems, not lung cancer.

Updated: 6/5/2012

Ken Levin, MD, private practice specializing in Radiology and Nuclear Medicine, Allentown, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.


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